An Obsession That Clearly Surpasses My Own

Although I’ve been excited for my entire trip, there was one day in particular that I was especially eager for: Saturday, the day I would finally get to visit Tintagel, Arthur’s birthplace. The castle (which is now in ruins) is currently only open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, so I actually shaped my entire itinerary around getting to the Cornish coast for the weekend.

After meeting Jo, the landlady/bartender at the local pub in Camelford (another supposed location of Camelot that’s about ten minutes from the coast), we knew the best way to get to the ruins: by parking at the top of the Glebe Cliff and walking down. The views were absolutely phenomenal, especially once we reached the castle itself and the sun came out. Since we were right at the sea—Tintagel Castle was built on this little peninsula off the coast of the rest of Tintagel, making it extremely defendable—it was even windier than the previous day, but it was worth it. In addition to being occupied between the 5th and 7th centuries during Arthur’s time, Tintagel had been used as a settlement for thousands of years, so we had the opportunity to see ruins from a variety of time periods.

IMG_1335 (This is the view walking to the ruins)

IMG_1358(Some of the ruins)

IMG_1392(This is the view from the very top, in the distance, the very tiny building is where we parked our car)

IMG_1427(This is the cove right at the ruins, the cave is called Merlin’s Cave)

Visiting the castle took our entire morning, but in the afternoon we visited another location that I had also been anticipating: King Arthur’s Great Halls. The Halls were created by Frederick Thomas Glasscock in the early 1930s and are decked out by specially made paintings by William Hatherell depicting scenes in Arthur’s life and 73 stunning glass windows made by Veronica Whall.

Our visits to the Halls began with a narrated light show of King Arthur’s life (based on the L’Morte D’Arthur version) before we were able to go into the Great Hall itself. There were paintings, stained glass windows, and suits of armor everywhere, as well as displays explaining various Arthurian facts. The Halls had their own Round Table, with the names of 12 knights carved into it, and many of the stained glass windows were the shields of various famous (and not-so well known) knights of Camelot.

IMG_1512 (The Great Hall part of the Halls)

My favorite part was how each stained glass window had a description, explaining the background information behind the symbol—particularly the histories of various knights. It was great to see the legends all compiled in one place; the Halls were the first and only place I visited to truly go into such detail and depth about the legends. It wasn’t merely a place that had been associated with Arthur, it was dedicated to Arthur and only made possible by Glasscock spending a small fortune.

Saturday also marked the last true ‘Arthurian’ day I would spend in England. Although my dad and I remained in England until Tuesday, the rest of our stops were only distantly associated with Arthur, and were basically just a way of breaking up the return journey to London. We stopped at Bath (a possible location of the Battle of Badon, Arthur’s 12th battle), Avebury Henge (a stone circle), and Marlborough (a supposed location of Merlin’s grave), before returning to London and flying home.


A Scavenger Hunt in the Moor

Today began with rain, which was okay, because my dad and I planned to drive two hours west to Bodmin Moor. Originally, I’d intended to visit Cadbury Castle, a Bronze and Iron Age hill fort that is believed to be a possible location of Camelot. Excavations have revealed that Cadbury Castle was in use during Arthur’s time—as well as hundreds of years earlier.

We actually ended up visiting Cadbury Castle late Thursday afternoon, which was a good thing, because it was already remarkably muddy, and we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere close if we’d waited until today. That being said, it was still difficult to visit, because so much of it was fenced off and the signs were not particularly clear. Since it is quite literally a hill, general tourists pass it over; so Arthurian enthusiasts have to actively seek it out. Nonetheless, my dad and I climbed up one of the slopes and still got a good sense of what the hill fort was like.

I could completely imagine King Arthur sitting astride his horse overlooking his kingdom from atop of the hill. I seem to be spending a lot of my time this week doing just that: imagining things. Everywhere I go, even if it’s not directly related to King Arthur, I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like, in the past.

This is probably a good thing, because it allowed me to get very excited about today. I had absolutely no museum/castle/cathedral/etc. visits planned for today. I simply planned to visit landmarks. Along the drive to Bodmin Moor, my dad and I took a few detours to see some towns. Westtownians might be particularly interested by how we stopped at the ruins of Launceston Castle, where George Fox was imprisoned with other Quakers for eight months in 1656.

After visiting Launceston, we eventually managed to find our first planned destination, Dozmary Pool. The GPS refused to guide us to a lake, and didn’t recognize any of the roads that were near the lake. We figured it out eventually, and I can honestly say it was completely worth it. Dozmary Pool is a potential home for the Lady of the Lake, and it’s believed that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into Dozmary Pool following Arthur’s fatal wound at Camlann. The lake was gorgeous. Bitterly cold, with exceptionally strong winds, but stunning. It was surrounded by grazing sheep and low mists, in the middle of nowhere, and truly gave off a mystical, ancient vibe. I’d read that the best time to visit was at dusk, but I was afraid we’d get lost if we visited when it was nearly dark, however with the on and off rain, the mists were just the right amount of gloomy to paint a picture of a time long past.


Following Dozmary Pool, we drove down to Fowey, Cornwall. This wasn’t Camelot; it was King Mark’s land. He generally featured in the legends of Tristan and Yseult. Yseult was Mark’s bride from Ireland, but she fell in love with his nephew (and a knight of the Round Table), Tristan. We visited a few sites associated with King Mark, Tristan, and Yseult in Fowey, but the most significant was the Tristan Stone, which marked Tristan’s grave and dated back to 550.


Finally, we drove north to Camelford, where we are staying the night. While at a pub for dinner, we ended up having the most interesting conversation with one of the bartenders who gave us instructions for the best way to visit Tintagel Castle tomorrow. She even took us out to the Moor to see some of the hills and to her family’s farm, where we saw the lambs. It was probably one of the weirdest but best interactions I’ve ever had with anyone—she was incredibly spontaneous, and, as one of the pub patrons described her “a bit mad”. But if anything, it certainly taught me that good things can come from going with the flow.



The Isle of the Apples

It’s a bit of a coincidence really. For the majority of my life, my family has spent part of our summers at the beach in Avalon, New Jersey. A place named after Avalon, the mystical island that plays a significant role in Arthurian Legend.

The island of Avalon, or as it is also frequently called, the Isle of the Apples, is commonly associated with Glastonbury, which was surrounded by water hundreds of years ago, when Arthur would have lived. According to legend, a mortally wounded Arthur was brought to Avalon to be healed following his clash with Mordred at the Battle of Camlann.

My dad and I spent Thursday exploring two main sites in Glastonbury: the Abbey and the Tor. We started the day off by walking to and climbing up Glastonbury Tor, a giant hill overlooking the town. The Tor is home to what is left St. Michael’s Church; a tower built in the 14th century. In Arthurian Legend, the Tor is mentioned as one of the sites visited by Arthur and his knights during their search for the Holy Grail.

It was amazing to climb up the Tor and imagine what climbing up it must have been like for the generations before me. Be it those from the 500s or those who built the churches on top of the massive hill, I kept imagining myself in their footsteps. Although it was brutally windy from the top of the Tor—my ears nearly popped from the pressure—the views more than made up for it.

IMG_1071 IMG_1095 IMG_1073 (The first two pictures are panoramic views of the Tor and the view from the Tor, and the third is the tower of St. Michael’s Church.)

We also visited Glastonbury Abbey later in the day. Glastonbury Abbey is definitely one of the most intriguing places I’ve visited, simply because of the implications it casts over the authenticity of Arthurian Legends.

See, in 1191, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere. The remains were moved to a black marble tomb in the middle of the nave of the Cathedral, where they remained until the dissolution of the Abbey in the 16th century, at which point they, and the tomb, disappeared.


The main question is whether or not the monks were telling the truth—they’d recently come into some financial difficulties, and it’s entirely possible their claims were a 12th century version of a publicity stunt.

The romantic in me likes to believe that the monks truly found Arthur’s body. There’s just something indescribably special about standing right where Arthur and Guinevere Pendragon were allegedly buried. But after spending far more time than me going over the evidence (or lack thereof) most experts believe the monks fabricated their claims. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that Glastonbury has played a large part in Arthurian Legend and in England’s history, making it a special place regardless.


A Fake Table and Some Really Big Rocks

My second day in England has officially ended. Following a surprisingly smooth red-eye flight from Monday night to Tuesday morning (less than half the seats were filled, so we could spread out across multiple ones), my dad and I drove to Winchester.

Winchester is full of history, but very little of it has to do with King Arthur. The main attraction, as far as my senior project is concerned, is King Arthur’s [replica] Round Table.

Just to be clear; it’s not the real Round Table.

It was actually created in the 13th century, during the reign of Edward I (a known Arthurian enthusiast), probably for one of the ‘Arthurian Tournaments’ he hosted. During Henry VIII’s reign, the table was repainted to include the Tudor Rose and Henry sitting in Arthur’s seat. (Yes, it’s on a wall).


The names of 24 Knights are painted around the edges. It was a lot of fun to try to read the calligraphy, although it was extremely difficult since many of the names were spelled differently from how I’m used to reading them so it turned into a bit of a guessing game. Some of the Knights included Mordred, Lancelot, Galahad, Gawain, Percival, and Tristan.

By the time we were finished visiting the Round Table, we were exhausted and had an early night in, marking the end of the first day of my senior project.

Today dawned bright and early. We spent an hour walking around Winchester itself, following the walls the Romans constructed centuries ago around the city. In a lot of places some of the height of the walls was worn away, but in a few spots they were still completely intact.

Then my dad and I made our way over to the Winchester Cathedral, which admittedly has no real relation to King Arthur. What the Winchester Cathedral does have, however, is a ton of history. There is so much history intertwined within those walls that our tour guide repeatedly jumped from the 12th century to the 18th to the 15th and so on. My favorite part was visiting Jane Austen’s grave (yes, she’s buried in the vicinity of bishops from the 13th century… she’s awesome, I know). In addition to my love of history, I’m a bit of an Austen fanatic, so even though a church hadn’t been established in that spot until a century after Arthur, it was wonderful to see.

After touring the Cathedral, my dad and I drove to Stonehenge. According to some legends, Merlin brought the stones over from Ireland. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the source of this legend, claimed that giants had taken the stones from Africa due to their healing properties, and that Merlin had brought them to their current resting place to act as a memorial for soldiers slain in combat against the Saxons.

Of course, this version of events is definitely not accurate—Stonehenge was assembled some 5,000 years ago, not 1,500—but it’s an interesting part of Arthurian Legend nonetheless, as well as an incredible site to visit. We weren’t allowed to get too close to the stones, but we were still close enough to get some pretty amazing pictures.




Camelot Beckons

Mythology has been a part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve always held this deep love and appreciation for all of the legends out there, however one has always been closest to my heart.

King Arthur.

Years ago, I read King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table for the first time. It was one of many books I’d brought home from the bookstore; at first nothing seemed particularly special about it. I remember that I had the bag of books on the floor in my bedroom, and I’d knelt down to choose one. I picked up the book about King Arthur and didn’t stand up until I’d finished it. I just sat there, on the floor, utterly fascinated.

Don’t be mistaken and think this led to my sudden immersion in Arthurian Legend. Because it didn’t. What it did do was start me on a path of slowly learning more and more about King Arthur throughout the years, always viewing the stories of Camelot with fondness, but never truly exploring them as deeply as I would have liked.

When considering Senior Project ideas, I mentioned wanting to research King Arthur so offhandedly that I can’t even remember when I first thought of it. But the idea took root, and now in three days I’ll be sitting on a plane with my dad on my way to England.

My dad and I are going to travel all around southwest England, visiting sites associated with various Arthurian Legends from Glastonbury Tor to Tintagel Castle. Along the way I’ll be blogging and continuing my research on King Arthur, so when I come back I can write a paper about my own take on Arthurian Legend.

I’m very excited, and each step I take in my preparations just makes this all the more real! I attended Westtown from kindergarten to ninth grade, before returning for my senior year, so for the past two years I never thought I would get to complete a Senior Project, but I’m extremely thrilled that I get the opportunity now!

Until my project begins!